Critics ripped apart Netflix’s “Bright”—and 11 million people still watched

Big Will still pulls a big audience.
Big Will still pulls a big audience.
Image: Netflix/Scott Garfield
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The fiercest family debates this holiday season may have been over Netflix’s new movie Bright.

Critics destroyed the $90 million action film starring Will Smith as a Los Angeles cop in a world where mythical creatures like orcs, elves, and faeries roam the streets. IndieWire said it was a “dull and painfully derivative ordeal” and the “worst movie of 2017,” which got the attention of the film’s director, David Ayer. Audiences couldn’t have agreed less. They thoroughly enjoyed the genre-bending, gritty, buddy-cop film, based on the Rotten Tomatoes audience score. And they rewarded it with their eyeballs.

During Bright’s debut weekend from Dec. 22-24, at any given minute, on average some 11 million people in the US were watching the film, Nielsen revealed. About 3.9 million of those viewers were ages 18-34, and 7 million were 18-49. About half, or 56%, of the crowd during the three days were male.

That’s on TVs, where the bulk of streaming is done in the US, and includes streaming from connected-TV devices like Chromecast media players and game consoles. Nielsen, which began measuring viewing on Netflix and other subscription-video-on-demand services this year, doesn’t track that viewership on other devices, such as smartphones, tablets, or desktop computers. Netflix said last year that only about 10% of total viewing was done on mobile.

Bright was meant to be Netflix’s first “blockbuster”—the kind of big-budget, sci-fi or fantasy action movie you’d expect to see in cinemas over the holidays. And it had a blockbuster-sized audience, by these measures.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, starring The Rock, had a similar budget as Bright and debuted in theaters the same weekend. It sold about 4 million tickets in the US during the same Dec. 22-24 period. As of Dec. 27, total sales were up to around 11 million tickets, according to Box Office Mojo estimates. And Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which cost more than twice as much to make as Bright and had a legacy behind it, sold about 8 million tickets during the same weekend, which was its second in theaters. (It sold a whopping 25 million its first weekend.)

Then again, it’s easier to get someone to press play on the TV in the living, or on a smartphone during their commute, than it is to get someone to pay to see a movie in theaters. But that’s Netflix’s advantage.

Bright‘s 11 million viewers would be about one-fifth of Netflix’s 53 million US members (pdf). Netflix’s overall US audience is thought to be larger than that, however, as family and friends share accounts or watch together. RBC estimated that 55% of Americans use Netflix, based on February survey, which would be something around 180 million total users.

Overall, Bright had a strong debut for a risky movie that was mercilessly mocked by critics. It could be even more valuable to the streaming service in the long term if it succeeds in changing the perception of what a Netflix movie can be.